Monday, June 24, 2013

Pot and Pan Banging: Making a Ruckus in Istanbul

Clang. Bang. Ring. Smash. Whistle. Honk. At 9:00 PM every night for the last three weeks, Istanbullus have been making a racket over the rooftops of the city. And down the alleyways and from window to window. It's cacophonous. It's loud. It's sometimes angry, sometimes triumphant. It is the sound of protest.***

Pots and pans, tea kettles, whatever makes the loudest sound, beat it like you mean it. For me, I have tried every kitchen implement in the cabinet, and each has its own advantage. Some sound hollow and silvery, others muffled and tinny. After trial and error, I discovered that I prefer a frying pan and a wooden spoon: it is very loud and echoes like a gong. I can make enough noise on it to make your eardrums vibrate. My wooden spoon is now frayed and dented at the edges from beating so hard with it.

So 9:00 has become a time of release, cathartic. Some nights it has felt almost like a prayer. Other nights like a call to arms. Some nights I have made a racket, wailing on my pan with tears rolling down my face. Other times, I have held my pan up high as friends across the street hold theirs up to me as a kind of toast.

Pot and pan banging now feels like a duty. Sometimes the disparate beats settle into a single rhythm, and it becomes a march cadence or a wordless chant. Through the metallic waves of dissonance bouncing across Istanbul's seven hills, it is a way for people to tell each other, "We're still in this. It's not over."

Make a clamor.

***Here is a truly inspiring song based on the nightly pot and pan banging.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Taksim Crackdown: June 22, 2013

Protesters gathered in Taksim Square this evening to commemorate the three protesters and one police man who lost their lives in the past few weeks during the unrest in Istanbul. They brought red carnations to lay on the stairs leading up to Gezi Park. There were no banners and no flags that betrayed any political affiliation: only "Taksim Solidarity" flags. The crowd was eventually dispersed using water cannon, but no tear gas was used at that time. Later, there were reports of tear gas and rubber bullets in Cihangir. Many innocent bystanders were caught in the violence.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tyler Durden, Chapuller: The Rules of Gezi Parkı

Reproduced faithfully from a sign in Gezi Parkı :

1st Rule: You must talk about Gezi Parkı.

2nd Rule: You must talk about Gezi Parkı.

3rd Rule: If a politician, police or anyone says "stop", it means "stay strong".

4th Rule: Thousands will stand arm to arm.

5th Rule: Tens of protests may occur all over the country at the same time.

6th Rule: No stones, no clubs.

7th Rule: Protests will go on as long as they have to.

8th Rule: If this is your first night at Gezi Parkı, stay not to be the last.

-Tyler Durden
the Chappuller

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gezi: How a Seedy Park in Istanbul Became a Place of Unity

To be honest, if you asked me a month ago what I thought of Gezi Park, I would have described it as scuzzy, seedy, unlovable.  Gezi Park sat on the edge of Taksim like a toothless junkie on a stoop, muttering insults at you under its breath into a paper bag.  You sort of felt sorry for it, but you kept your distance.  I’ve heard, from a gay friend, that it was a cruising spot for men looking for clandestine hookups.  His word: “creepy”.  "Not nice people," said he.  Another friend told me that while attending some sort of open-air concert in the park, she stepped in a pile of fresh human feces.  She described it as the single most disgusting moment of her life.  And so Gezi Park sat on Taksim's stoop and waited to die, muttering insults into a paper bag.

But then a few people saw something in Gezi Park that I could not see.  They loved the unlovable.  They quietly planted themselves under its grubby branches and started to create a tiny republic out of the dust.  A garden of tents sprang up from nothing and the waiting began.  Police quickly intervened.  People rose up out of the dirt.  One woman planted herself in the ground like a red tulip and her hair blew up as the police sprayed her in the face with tear gas.  Tear gas made the people grow, and by nightfall Beyoğlu was a field of red tulips.  Flags blooming on arms raised.

Soon the police were gone.  The garden grew.  People were transplanted and spread and spread and grew under sun and moon.  Gezi Park smiled, toothlessly, and lifted its ruddy face to the sky.  Gezi Park was loved, but more importantly, giving love.  More and more people came and spread like dandelions, filling in the cracks in the pavement and the spaces around trees.  Gezi Park danced and clapped and made music.  The people were all different: some young, some old, some with heads covered, some in prayer, some were babies, some were blind, some had money in their laughs, some laughed at money.  There was color and life, and even the skeptics among us had to admit, there was a kind of utopia.  A ragged Garden of Eden between the burnt-out cars and graffiti.

Gezi Park stood up in Taksim and Taksim wheeled around Gezi Park.  The people grew like mad wildflowers.  Gezi Park cracked into wrinkled smiles and sang old songs and clapped its hands.  It was one week of peace.

Then the police came back and Taksim burned.  Water cannon drowned it.  Gas bombs sent it coughing and sputtering.  Stun grenades terrified it.  Fireworks bloomed above it.  Gezi Park wept in tear gas and the people scattered like dandelion seeds.

But they came back.

And they grew.  And they come back more and more.  And now Gezi Park sits on the stoop of Taksim, catching its jagged breath and clutching its chest, but it's alive.  And unbending.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Managing Fear: Taksim on Fire (June 11, 2013)

I had to pee three times in 20 minutes as I psyched myself up to go to Gezi Park.

Managing my fear.

Crowds surged toward Taksim and out of the metro.  Hawkers waited at the top of the metro escalators selling surgical masks, whistles, bandanas, hard hats.  All the necessary supplies.

Getting closer to the park, the tension heightened.  People cheered each other as if to give courage ahead of battle.  Defiant, angry, and united, people were marching resolutely toward Taksim.

At the edge of Gezi Park, it was a swarm of people.  Ahead, there was a tapestry of smoke hanging in front of the barricades.  White tear gas spiraling through the black smoke of burning barricades.  And fireworks?  Strange bursts of color blossoming against smoke.

Sound of chanting, clapping, bang of gas grenades.
Smell of burning.
Salty sea of people.
Taste of pepper.
Touch of clammy skin. Burning in sinuses, back of throat, chest.

In the park.  No longer the scene of jubilant, triumphant anarchy of a few days ago.  No more circles of dancing people lifting their hands together in the air and singing the old songs they all know.  Now, a string of worn out but determined people holding hands in a human chain.  Standing up, single-minded.  People sitting around, looking exhausted and scared.  Spurts of running people.  Flames behind silhouettes.  A rush of people carrying a wounded man on a stretcher.  Sirens and explosions of stun grenades.  The sudden burning of eyes and fumbling with goggles, covering mouths with scarves.  Rags wet with vinegar on our faces to soothe the pain of tear gas.  Elliptical beat of helicopter blades above.

Trying to manage fear, trying to manage fear.

Gas bomb after gas bomb, now aimed at Gezi Park.  People running from the direction of Taksim.  Can barely see through goggles, bright light reflecting off bodies, trying to stay with our friends.

Suddenly, applause erupted and people cheered when the wind changed.  Literally.  After a pummeling of gas bomb attacks, the wind shifted and started blowing hard in the opposite direction.  It felt like an intervention.  It felt spirit-like somehow.

They can’t get us for now.  For now.

But they could attack from the opposite side of the park.  I saw an old couple stumbling around together, grey hair like smoke against the trees.  I saw couples wearing hard helmets clinging to each other.  People coughing. Groups huddled on the ground.

But renewing their chants.  Looking around, I saw thousands of people willing to risk themselves.  Ordinary people living ordinary lives, out on a night that felt like the end of the world.  A night ablaze.

Eventually, we found ourselves in Talimhane, in the streets leading up to Taksim.  The apprehension was palpable.  People watched quietly while Taksim seemed to burn.  Now and then, police threw gas grenades down the street and there was a rush of people running.  In a panic run of people, I screamed to Matt, idiotically, "Falafel House!" since that was the only familiar place on the street.  Their doors were already closed.  People were yelling "Yavaş! Yavaş!"  "Slowly!  Slowly!"  To try to keep people from panicking.

Managing fear.

We discussed with our friends how to get home, and decided to try Tarlabaşı Boulevard.  We felt exposed, and it was clear that the police were pushing down the boulevard.  We heard explosions behind us and some people were rushing.  We could see nothing, so we just walked quickly.  Through a couple of back streets, I felt my heart rate slow down a little.

My heart boomed on again back on Cumhurriyet, where we parted ways with our friends.  We exhaustedly tramped to the metro amidst bursts of encouraging applause from our fellows on the street.  Masses of people were still sweeping toward Taksim.  Resolute.  We applauded each other.

Applause greeted us in the metro.  We clapped.  They clapped. Clapping at every stop along the metro.  Now instead of victorious applause, it was as if people were steeling themselves for battle.  Rallying each other's spirits. 

Managing fear, unyielding.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Museum of Resistance

People have been in the business of creating and documenting since the violence slowed down a bit in Istanbul. The streets are a fascinating gallery of performance art, graffiti, and what can only be called artifacts. People are installations. Barricades become art pieces. People take pictures of themselves among the weird remains of conflict. It also seems suspended, like a wire will be tripped and it will all explode in seconds. We took a walk from people-controlled Taksim to police-controlled Besiktas, past all the barricades and scenes of horror from the past week. At the bottom of the hill, the police sit in huge groups in front of Dolmabahce Palace. They seem to be biding their time.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Night of Terror: May 31-June 1, 2013 in Istanbul

Little girl.  Pink dress.  Gas mask.  I caught sight of her flitting past in the Osmanbey metro station, and I was immediately filled with dread.  When we emerged from the station, there was a palpable tension in the air.  We walked toward Taksim, my stomach churning.  Dread.  Dread.  Sunset and shadows and a strange smell on the air and dread.  And then it happened.  Hundreds of people running toward us.  Surgical masks and people coughing.  Found an alcove, a doorway, and paused to think and breathe.

"Do you speak English?  Do you speak English?" a frantic voice next to me was pleading.  


"Is it safe?  Are we safe?"

"I don't know."

"What should we do?"

"I don't know."

We waited.  People were running.  And then we saw a mass of smoke burst from the ground down the street.

"Cover your face!"  I screamed to the two women, two tourists from Dubai, who were huddled beside me.

"Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God..."

The streets were cleared and we were left feeling exposed, four people naked on the sidewalk, perched in a garbage hole next to Cumhurriyet Avenue.  A water cannon slowly rolled past.  I felt like its eye was on me, and I tried to be invisible.  It passed.  I breathed.  Its stalk swerved and the eye hammered water down on someone a little further up the street.  I concentrated hard, hard, hard on invisibility while a pack of riot police tramped past us.  Like they were hunting.  They looked at us. 

Invisible.  Invisible.  Invisible.  I am.

"Matt, put the camera down."

"No."  He was right.  Seconds passed.

"Put the camera down!  They have guns!  They see us!"  He dropped the camera.

"They don't want to shoot us.  Just tear gas."  To the two women, concentrating on believing my own words.

Then I felt my face burning.  And my eyes.  And throat.

"Cover your face!"  They used their hands.  I buried into my t-shirt.

Panic from the two women.

"Can we go after they pass?  Can we go?  Is it safe?" 

To comfort them gave me some strength.  I needed someone to focus my energy on.  They needed someone to guide them, tell them what to do, tell them it was going to be ok.

We decided to help them to their hotel.  They were clutching onto me for dear life.  Somehow they felt safer with us because we live here.  People look for safety everywhere, everywhere, whether or not it only exists in their minds.

We didn't know what we were doing either.  Matt kept the camera rolling.

Blindly, we headed toward Taksim, eyes burning.  Suddenly, it was hard to see.  Through the burning tears sliding down my face, I saw a shop and stumbled in.  We wandered around blindly for some time while our eyes cleared, and the people in the shops offered us lemons for our eyes, which counteracts the tear gas.  We cleared ourselves.  Enough.

Back into the fray.  Twisting, turning, dodging, guiding.  I put my arm around one of the women.  Sometimes the other seized my arm.  Sirens, tear gas, crowds, chanting, police.

Found the Hilton, usually an obvious landmark, but now the center of a swirl of confusion.  Two strange women grabbed me, hugged me tightly, and "Thank you!  God bless!  God bless."  Goodbye.

The dread I had was now full-blown fear.  We couldn't go back.  There were hundreds of riot police between us and home.  Matt texted our friend Melanie:

"Are you home?  We're in the neighborhood and gassed."

She told us to come over.  We looked further down Cumhurriyet toward Gezi Park and Taksim.  A mantle of tear gas hung over the street in front of us.  We couldn't go that way.  We scuttled around corners and back streets, with the sound of chanting, singing, rattling looming in the dark on other streets.

Finally we staggered onto Melanie's street and there was anger in the air.  Some people limped toward us.  Some women were running, gripping each other for dear life.  I could see the police standing up at the end of the street.  And I could feel the potential energy, suspended in the air, of a canister of tear gas flying at us.  It didn't happen, but the possibility hung in the air by my ear.  Suspended.  The street writhed, now galvanized with fear and anger. 

There's her door.  Make for it.  Chaos, energy, and stand-offs waiting for retaliation.  At the door.  Find her name.  Press the doorbell.  Buzz.  We're in.

And we're in for a night of horrors playing out just below the windows.  Melanie welcomes us graciously into her home and we hunker down.  We can't tear ourselves away from the window. But then sometimes we stumble back and cover our faces in lemon.

A constant barrage of tear gas.
Police raids on shops.
Police beating protesters.
Women screaming at police from upper windows.
Helicopters circling around with spotlights here there everywhere.  To intimidate.  It works.
Clanging banging chanting singing corrugated metal fence pots-and-pans voices.
Kicking back tear gas shells at the police.
Building a barricade of garbage.
Lighting it on fire?
2 AM so much tear gas you can't see the sky.  Burning eyes despite closed windows.
3 AM cacophony corrugated metal fence and arms raised.
Pop crack boom scream yell.
Sleep only comes for snatches of minutes when protesters get gassed, get quiet.

Mostly I am lying awake all night, listening to the rise and fall of conflict just outside the window. Light from helicopters illuminating the room.  Trying to keep myself from jumping up to the window every time I hear a crash or an explosion.  Other faces hover behind darkened windows across the street.  Occasionally we lock eyes.

6 AM quiet. Finally.  Uneasy sleep.

8 AM.  Cleanup crew.  Sweeping cleaning throwing away.

This morning, the streets of Istanbul were littered with lemons and tear gas shells.  A smell still lingered.  

In Taksim, tear gas seemed to burn endlessly.  It was quiet but for a distant roar of voices on Istiklal.  Shattered glass by the trolley tracks.  Tear gas shells... everywhere.  Police, gas masks hanging limply at their sides or under chins, text messages to their mothers, drinking tea, smoking cigarettes and staring at the ground.

Taksim was shattered, splintered, smashed, in tatters, a war zone the morning after.  I looked on the ground and saw a small wreath of flowers for a little girl's hair.  It was pressed flat into the pavement, like between the pages of a book.  Sun fell down on us brightly, angrily, ominously.  Smoke was tiredly curling out of dumpsters.  We turned away and began the long, hot march to the nearest open metro station, the sounds of pots and pans and human voices clanging in the distance.